The Million Dollar Quartet is the name given to recordings made on Tuesday December 4, 1956 in the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The recordings were of an impromptu jam session between Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. The jam session seems to have happened by pure chance. Perkins, who by this time had already met success with “Blue Suede Shoes,” had come into the studios that day, accompanied by his brothers Clayton and Jay and by drummer W.S. Holland, their aim being to cut some new material, including a revamped version of an old blues song, “Matchbox.” Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, who wished to try to fatten this sparse rockabilly instrumentation, had brought in his latest acquisition, singer and piano man extraordinaire, Jerry Lee Lewis, still unknown outside Memphis, to play the piano on the Perkins session.

Sometime in the early afternoon, Elvis Presley, a former Sun artist himself, but now at RCA, dropped in to pay a casual visit accompanied by a girlfriend, Marilyn Evans. He was, at the time, the biggest name in show business, having hit the top of the singles charts five times, and topping the album charts twice in the preceding 12 month period. Less than four months earlier, he had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, pulling an unheard-of 83% of the television audience, which was estimated at 55 million, the largest in history, up to that time. After chatting with Philips in the control room, Presley listened to the playback of the Perkins’ session, which he pronounced to be good. Then he went into the studio and some time later the jam session began. Phillips left the tapes running in order to “capture the moment” as a souvenir and for posterity. At some point during the session, Sun artist Johnny Cash, who had also enjoyed a few hits on the country charts, popped in (Cash noted in his autobiography Cash that it was he who was the first to arrive at Sun Studio that day). As Jerry Lee pounded away on the piano, Elvis and his girlfriend at some point slipped out. Cash claims in Cash that “no one wanted to follow Jerry Lee, not even Elvis”
The following day, an article, written by Memphis newspaperman Bob Johnson about the session, was published in the Memphis Press-Scimitar under the title, “Million Dollar Quartet.” The article contained the now well known photograph of Elvis Presley seated at the piano surrounded by Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

27 thoughts on “Million Dollar Quartet – Dec. 4 1956

  1. Tom Stultz

    Just saw The Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway. It was a lot of fun with great music and the guy playing JLL was spot on.

  2. Christina

    There was an “eerie” moment of silence in the show where I felt the presence of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was a very fun show and I highly recommend it.

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  4. Ken

    Just saw the show. Wonderful! Not sold out, though. JLL “stole the show!”

  5. Kevin

    I saw the show in London and it was incredible! Definitely the best theatre show I’ve ever been to. I think I’m going to buy some more Million Dollar Quartet Tickets for when I’m next down in London! Long live Elvis.

  6. Maria

    People say that Johnny left the studios before the gospel sessions took place. But when the localreporter where there Johnny actually sang a few songs for him. Do anyone know if those songs were recorded???

    I´m going to celebrate that it is 55 years ago those sessions took place in my radio show I broadcast in a swedish radio channel. The program is called Marias plattor in english Marias records.

  7. Richard Brown

    Just seen the show in London. Hugely entertaining lovedJLL and JC. Go and see the show

  8. jamessmith

    i have a commemoritive coin with the milloin doolar quartet on it and was wondering the worth of it . im james can be reached at 903 3529926

  9. Pingback: Elvis hits town, and hits somebody too | Toledo History Box – 20th century Toledo as seen through the eyes of the Toledo Blade and News-Bee

  10. roger warren

    I believe i have the record of this jam session. Would it be worth anything

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  12. Matt

    Just saw the show in Chicago. I had no idea how incredible that night was. Whoever decided to give the world the opportunity to play audience to the Million Dollar Quartet is a genius and I am grateful.

  13. Pingback: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ Brings Pivotal Moment In Music To The Stage « Midwest Theatre Review

  14. Sandy

    Saw the show at the Apollo in Chicago last Friday night. Amazing and full of energy.

  15. michael lacey

    Thursday, 26th of February 2015
    Tomorrow evening I shall the opportunity to see the show at the Fox Theater in Saint Louis. I too play piano, sing and have a band… I love doing (though could never aspire to sound like ‘The Last Man Standing’ Jerry Lee) his songs with my band….

  16. Kathy Pabst

    I have seen it twice in Chicago. And I just saw the “traveling” show in Medford, Oregon. The only one I have yet to see is in Vegas! It is truly amazing performance. Having been to Graceland and Sun Studios; the Million Dollar Quartet wraps it all up! It is like stepping back in time to watch history in the making! I will see it again! Wonderful amazing talented performers. Plus history in the making!

  17. Marc

    Who played bass and drums at the MDQ session in 1956?

  18. Dan

    I heard recently that Johnny cash only popped in to pick up a royalty check from Sam. He was only present for the photo and did not sing that day

  19. Robin Beard

    Seen in Las Vegas twice now absolute must see awesome awesome show

  20. Patricia

    seen MDT in Branson Mo wonderful show you get with it Jerry Lee Lewis and Jonny Cash

  21. eva gray

    saw the show in Branson,MO; it was great, Jerry E. Lewis definitely stole the show.

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  23. John Behan

    Seen the show in dublin it was fantastic.
    What you would call real music.
    we loved it

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